Against The Whiteboard

How did a well-intentioned idea to improve interviewing programmers morph into a new barrier that excludes people? And what negative effects can happen when these patterns are repeated outside of the tech industry?

Anil Dash
Anil Dash
Mar 7, 2017 · 7 min read
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Getting on Board

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This is Joel. Maybe that’s a whiteboard behind him? HMMM!
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How it all went wrong

Like a lot of cargo-cult tech trends, whiteboard algorithm sketching started to go horribly wrong when people started copying a behavior at a superficial level while ignoring the cultural and emotional context that informed that behavior. In short: people copied what was being done without knowing why they were doing it.

When we mimic patterns from tech culture without knowing why we do them, we often take good ideas and turn them into terrible barriers.

Where does this end up? With even worse repercussions than we’d expect. More and more industries want to be like the “innovative” or “disruptive” high-tech industry. Yet they almost never have the fluency and literacy in technology to know exactly what aspects of tech culture they should or should not be emulating.

So what do we do?

It’s not too late to fix things. The first step is for us to look at the way interviewing and hiring work in the tech industry, and to make changes to our own processes. If the rest of the world is going to follow our example, then maybe we can cajole them into following along with us as we fix things.

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